Wednesday, January 28, 2009
In defense of Wikipedia
Wikipedia, that much-maligned, online, would-be fount of information has gotten a bad rap from the start. In 2005, author Nicholas Carr critiqued entries on Bill Gates and Jane Fonda as garbage. Even the online encyclopedia's co-founder Jimmy Wales admitted that it has some serious problems with its quality. Part of the problem with Wikipedia as a resource of information stems from what many would-be Wikepedia editors like about it: anyone can edit an article. Last year in an online historical discussion group, the consensus was: stay far away from Wikipedia if you want a real research source.
I'd be with the rest who say don't use it as a resource...if I wasn't a Wikipendian. A Wikipedian is someone who participates in the various Wikipedia-related projects to any extent. My favorite Wikipedia project revolves around the entries about the Nasrid Dynasty.
In the seventeen years of research and writing I did for my Sultana manuscripts, I amassed an incredible amount of information from different sources about my main characters, their rivals and descendants. When I started, the amount of misinformation or the lack of information frustrated me. I had a difficult time accessing materials that were available because they (a) remained under lock and key, untranslated in some far-off mysterious library archive, or (b) existed in some lofty academic research journal that I would have to jump through hoops and obstacles to get. It was easier to sift through the minimal sources I found online to get started and where I found book references that I could buy on Barnes & Noble or Amazon.com, I was in research heaven. Unfortunately, much of any online information about the Nasrid Dynasty is still outdated, with incorrect spellings and dates, bolstered by myths and legends, mixed up in Western fantasies about Orientalism, and just plain and simple, wrong.
Since 2007, I've been working on a Wikipedia project to provide accurate information about the monarchs of the Nasrid Dynasty. I started with simple updates about the lives of the sultans who ruled from 1232 until 1492. Then I started adding entries for the rulers where none previously existed. There are other Wikipedian editors doing the same thing right along with me. It seems we're all operating from the same perspective; making information about a fascinating period of Spanish history, readily accessible to the public.
It is in that goal that Wikipedia needs to be evaluated. Sure, there are scores of people who post information in Wiki articles that are complete fabrications. But some who participate in the project give of their valuable time, share their resources and expand the knowledge base for no other reason than to enrich our understanding. In my editing, I always try to cite corroborating sources, so if there's ever a question about the facts, anyone can go directly to the research materials I've indicated. It's my hope that the articles will become a resource for others who are interested in Nasrid history. I'm happy to play my small part as a Wikipedian.
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